Monday 29 March 2021

Rambling cartographer

Dau.I the Librarian works for the people who brought us Borrowbox, the freebie librarie for audiobooks. She gives me the heads up when something appears in the Bb catalogue that she thinks will stoke my fires. How to Draw a Map by Malcolm [and Alex] Swanston? What's not to like about that?? Of course, I downloaded it and read it through with increasing frustration. My usual kvetch about audio-books is how they provide an income for tone-deaf professional readers. The Frayed Atlantic Edge and Into the Silence have both been laughably adrift on the pronunciation of proper names and even [unfamiliar, longish] English words. You'd think and hope, that the men [so far all men] who read for money would be paid enough for their time to research how to, like, say these things in a way that doesn't bring the reader up all standing.

For this book, I have nothing to complain about Philip Bretherton the Voice: diction clear, cadence engaging, pronunciation unexceptionable. I do, however, question the sanity of the publisher. Of all the gin-books of all the book-cities of the world which could have been released as an audio book this is a peculiar choice because the illustrations are so integral to the sense of the book that the artist, and son of author, is given equal billing on the cover. In the first eight pages of the written preview, there are 4 maps which act as a synergistic counterpoint to the text. And clearly Malcom Swanston, founder of the Map Archive, has made substantive contributions to the art of maps in books and other media

Without the maps, the text is greatly reduced in value. If you know nothing about the history of surveying and cartography, and you have 8 hours without the internet or atlas, then this book isn't a total bust. But the history is a disjointed set of cartoon tableaux. The War Between The States is knocked off in 5 minutes of cliché for just one example. I assume the printed book has some interesting maps shaded in blue and grey with red arrows indicating the progress of the Vicksburg campaign . . . or whatever. Indeed, you can buy a number of such maps for £3.29 each.  Without actual maps, How to Draw a Map is kinda useless.  Disappointing; if I had paid money for the audio-book, I'd be kinda pissed. That being said, it sticks in this reader's craw to listen to a chatty aside about one of Swanston's cartographic triumphs cast as cunning plan to garner a load of money for him and his publisher.

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